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Monday, February 3, 2014
Seahawks bring back memories

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After failures as an NFL head coach with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, Pete Carroll went to USC to prove to himself that old-school football could work. To Carroll, that meant rugged defense and running the football, a mindset he then imported to his next NFL stop with the Seattle Seahawks.

On Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, Carroll's old-school football produced an old-school Super Bowl beatdown, something that was common in the 1970s and 1980s. The Seahawks won their first NFL championship by dominating the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Pete Carroll
Pete Carroll built the Seahawks by focusing on defense and the run game, and it turned out to be a championship formula.

From Super Bowl XI to Super Bowl XIV, the average margin of victory was 19.2 points. Super Bowls in that stretch were Super Bores. Included in those lopsided affairs were two Broncos blowouts -- a 55-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers and a 42-10 loss to the Washington Redskins -- as well as the Patriots' 46-10 loss to the Chicago Bears.

The 2013 Seahawks mirrored those 1985 Bears. Chicago was the last NFL defense to lead the league in fewest yards and fewest points allowed, as well as most takeaways. Monsters of the Midway, meet the Legion of Boom. The Seahawks defense shut out the Broncos for three quarters and forced four Denver turnovers.

Carroll, 62, perfected the formula with USC and brought it to Seattle. Four years after being hired, Carroll and the Seahawks dominated the Broncos and won their first Super Bowl. In doing so, Carroll joined Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only coaches to win both a Super Bowl and an NCAA championship. And while old-school play paved the way, in New England, Carroll won a playoff game with Drew Bledsoe at quarterback -- so he knew it also helps to have a quarterback. Thanks to Carroll, the Seahawks have the defense, they have the formula and they have the quarterback (Russell Wilson). And now, they have the Lombardi Trophy, old-school style.

Here is what else we learned in Super Bowl XLVIII.

1. The Meaning to Seattle and the Northwest: This is the greatest sports weekend in the history of Seattle. On Saturday, legendary left tackle Walter Jones became a first-ballot Hall of Famer. On Sunday, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl. Oh, and also on Saturday, David Stern retired as NBA commissioner. How does Stern play into this historic weekend? Stern endorsed pro basketball leaving the market when the NBA allowed Clay Bennett to move the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City. The resentment by Seattle (including Seahawks) fans has burned for years.

It got worse last winter when investor Chris Hansen tried to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle. Stern held a contentious news conference involving the Kings in which he said he had to be brief because he had to fly to see a Thunder playoff game. Seattle fans fumed. For a decade, MLB's Mariners, NCAA football's Washington Huskies and many other sports in Seattle were in a winning drought. The Seahawks' Super Bowl win erased that pain. The Mariners have a young team with promise, the Huskies won nine games last season and then hired Chris Petersen from Boise State, … and Stern retired. The Sonics won an NBA championship in 1979, and that was considered the last major championship for the city. That all changed Sunday night.

Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning was responsible for three of Denver's four turnovers, including an interception on this second-quarter play after getting hit.

2. Turnover Thursday, Turnover Sunday: Carroll spends Thursdays teaching the value of turnover differential and its effects on games. In Super Bowl XLVIII, it was all about the turnovers. A minus-two differential in the first half, along with a game-opening safety, put the Broncos behind 22-0 at the half. Carroll translates a plus-two differential into giving a team an 83.6 percent chance of winning. If you go plus-three, forget about it. During the regular season, NFL teams were 21-1 if they had a plus-three or better margin. The Seahawks were plus-four and won the Super Bowl.

"Defense wins championships, and you can say that now," Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor said. 

Center Manny Ramirez cost the Broncos two points in the first 12 seconds by rifling the opening snap over the head of Peyton Manning, resulting in a safety. It was the fastest score in Super Bowl history. That safety set up a field goal drive for the Seahawks that put them ahead 5-0 fewer than five minutes into the game. Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith capped off a nightmarish first half for Manning when he returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown with 3:21 left in the second quarter. That gave the Seahawks a 22-0 lead. The ballgame was over early.

3. Percy Harvin, the X factor: After the Seahawks won the NFC title game against San Francisco, Carroll anticipated having the full Super Bowl services of wide receiver Harvin, whom the Seahawks traded for in the offseason and gave a six-year, $61 million contract. Hip surgery, a slow recovery and a concussion in the NFC divisional round limited Harvin to only 37 plays in the 2013 regular season and playoffs. A healthy Harvin was a huge factor in the Seahawks' win. In fact, it probably helped that he missed much of the season. The Broncos didn't have much tape on him, and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell used the college fly sweep twice early -- resulting in 45 yards, including a 30-yard run in the first quarter. The threat of Harvin running the football was more dangerous than his receiving. On the fly sweep, Harvin lines up in the slot or as a flanker and then runs at full speed toward Wilson. The QB can hand him the ball or use Harvin as a ghost and keep it for himself, give it to Marshawn Lynch or pass.

"The fly sweep opens up things for Marshawn Lynch," Harvin said. "We used it in college, and I loved it." With a 22-0 lead, Carroll used Harvin on the opening kickoff of the second half, and Harvin rewarded the decision with an 87-yard touchdown return. "We had a special kind of return, kind of like we hadn't put on film all year, and those guys told me I was going to score," Harvin said. "Those guys believed I was going to get into the end zone."

4. Disappointment for Manning: Let's be clear here first -- Manning's legacy is intact. He's one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. Still, he's now 11-12 in the playoffs and has only one Super Bowl ring -- and two NFL title game losses. He came to Denver to work with John Elway, a quarterback-turned-team president who had to wait until the end of his career to get two Super Bowl rings. Though he finished the regular and postseason with 60 TD passes and 6,387 yards, the chance of Manning winning his second ring whizzed by his face on the very first play when Ramirez's bad snap went for a safety. It got only worse from there. Manning completed 34 of 49 passes for 280 yards, but he was often frustrated by the Seattle defense. He couldn't sustain drives. He threw two interceptions. Mistakes were many. Manning said afterward that the Broncos simply didn't play their best game.

"It's not an easy pill to swallow," said Manning, who moved past Tom Brady as the all-time leader in NFL postseason passing yards with 6,589. A hard worker, Manning was gracious in defeat and tried to put the loss in perspective by discussing work ethic, saying, "Last year's loss in the playoffs fueled us for this season. We will have to use this loss to fuel us for next year." Manning will be back next season, but the clock is ticking.

Wes Welker
The Seahawks slowed Wes Welker and the Broncos' vaunted pass game to a crawl.

5. The Bunch vs. the Legion of Boom: Manning and Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase had two weeks to prepare for the NFL's best secondary, a Seahawks unit that calls itself the Legion of Boom. As it turned out, the Broncos' plan was predictable. As expected, the Broncos opened in a one-back, three-receiver formation that also included Julius Thomas at tight end. On three of the first four offensive plays, Manning stacked three receivers in a triangle bunch. Because the Seahawks use so much man coverage, the Broncos were hoping to challenge them to determine where the pass-catchers would come out of the bunch (the Broncos also use it to run the pick play).

The strategy was defused in the first five minutes. After the bad-snap safety on the first play, the Broncos had a three-and-out on the second possession and trialed 5-0. After that, the Broncos switched to a more conventional three-receiver set but fell so far behind that the Seahawks were able to attack. Seattle's secondary is four deep with quality corners and has two great safeties (Earl Thomas and Chancellor) and fast, coverage-savvy linebackers. Smith, in fact, became the first defensive player to win Super Bowl MVP honors since Tampa Bay's Dexter Jackson in SB XXXVII, snapping a streak of 10 straight QBs or wide receivers. Strategically, the Seahawks stayed basic. They played man early in the game. After steamrolling to a 29-0 lead, they used more three-deep zone. They blanketed pass-catchers. They created turnovers. They didn't allow many yards after the catch. And they lived up to the reputation of the Legion of Boom.

Bailey/Baldwin
Champ Bailey couldn't keep up with Doug Baldwin on a 37-yard reception in the second quarter.

6. Conservative offense, aggressive formations: Carroll meets with his QB on Mondays and for big games reminds Wilson of the value of protecting the football. As he says, turnover ratio is the path to victory in the NFL. With Harvin available for full duty, the Seahawks spread the field with some fanciful formations. Twice on the first offensive possession, Bevell used a four-receiver set that featured Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse -- no back, four receivers and a tight end.

On Seattle's first possession, Wilson hit Kearse with two short completions. "We used the first series as a fact-finding mission," Bevell said. "We wanted to see their alignments and how they were going to play things." The Seahawks sprinkled in a few changes to that formation as the game proceeded, including using Harvin out of the backfield, and the results were strikingly efficient: The Seahawks had 341 yards on 55 plays -- an average gain of 6.2 yards per play, compared to Denver's 4.8 -- and held the ball for 31:53, enough to dominate the game. The Seahawks set a Super Bowl record by scoring 36 unanswered points to start the game, with contributions from the offense, defense and special teams.

7. Injuries caught up to Denver: In the four games leading up to the Super Bowl, including two in the postseason, the Broncos' defense became very stout against the run despite losing five starters to injury. They allowed only 280 yards of rushing in those four games. Against a younger Seahawks offense, the Broncos looked unathletic and slow. The myriad injuries left the Broncos with just a handful of regulars -- two starting defensive linemen, linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris and safety Rahim Moore were out. Champ Bailey, the team's senior cornerback, played only five regular-season games because of a foot injury and looked slow when Baldwin got behind him on a 37-yard completion.

Demaryius Thomas
The Broncos' record-setting offense was held to a single touchdown, which didn't come until the end of the third quarter.

8. Top offenses don't translate into Super Bowl rings: The 2013 Broncos owned the No. 1 scoring offense in the history of the NFL, and high-scoring teams had high hopes of changing a trend. Not so fast, said the Seahawks' defense. Including Sunday night's Denver debacle, the nine highest-scoring teams in NFL history have failed to win a Super Bowl. Manning set a Super Bowl record with 34 completions -- and it meant nothing. The Broncos were blown out. The Broncos averaged 36.8 points per game during the regular season and went 13-3, and yet they failed to score against Seattle until the final play of the third quarter. This is a lesson of the extremes. Scoring is everything in the NFL, but if you are going to be No. 1 in anything, it's better to be No. 1 on defense.

9. The Seahawks have their quarterback: Wilson was reliable and his numbers were solid, but not great. They never are. Carroll restricts him to roughly 25 passes a game, and it's Wilson's job to make most of them. He did just that in Super Bowl XLVIII, completing 18 of 25 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Though not spectacular, Wilson was efficient -- as always. "He's the general," Harvin said of his QB. "I haven't seen anybody prepare the way he prepares. There were three minutes on the clock, still ticking, and he's still in our faces telling us, 'Stay ready,' and we're like, 'Man, the game's pretty much over.'"

That's Wilson -- all business, always in control. He ran the ball only three times (for 26 yards) and admits he prepared to get outside the pocket and pass the ball more than run. He'll do anything to win. The good news for Seattle: Though Wilson is now a Super Bowl champion, this was just his second season in the league. He's going to get better and is already tied with Manning for Super Bowl rings. It's not out of the question that Wilson will get more. At 25 years, 65 days, Wilson is the third-youngest starting QB to win a Super Bowl (only Ben Roethlisberger and Brady were younger, and they both went on to win multiple titles).

10. Home-field advantage  on the road: It was the Seahawks who had the home-field edge in this game. In mid-December, they came to New York and shut out the New York Giants 23-0 in MetLife Stadium (amazingly, that was their last road game until Sunday night). Carroll repeated trip arrangements, trying to make the trip seem familiar. The Seahawks stayed at the same Jersey City, N.J., hotel. They practiced at the Giants facility, which is in the parking lot of MetLife. They felt as comfortable as possible before a Super Bowl, and they had the decided edge with the crowd. Seahawks fans were louder than Broncos fans -- a fact that certainly became clear as the game got out of hand, but was also there from the very beginning. Broncos offensive players couldn't hear Manning on the first play from scrimmage, leading to the bad snap and safety. Carroll kept his team comfortable, and the reward was a Super Bowl win.